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Archive for the ‘books’ Category

I’ve been away from blogging for a long time – about 2 years apparently, doesn’t time fly?  Now that’s writers block on a grand scale.  I bet Ernest Hemingway didn’t down tools and go sailing for more than a few month’s at a time, although since he did blow his brains out in the end maybe he did.  Not that I’m comparing myself to Papa Hemingway – au contraire – heaven forbid – and all that.  I’m sure my little scribblings don’t even come close to a ‘real’ authors musings.  Although it must be said that just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder so is literary merit.  Personally I think Stephen King and Peter Straub and P.D. James all suck despite the fact that they’ve sold, and made, millions.  Don’t know about you but I find that tons of turgid prose and overly intricate plotlines bore the hell out of me and can only be deciphered by underemployed academics on a grant.

Mozart was once informed by his patron that his work was good but contained ‘too many notes’ – well Stephen King’s plots are good but he uses too many words – a few thousand of them too many in fact.  You could take out all the superfluous windings and musings plus all the ‘the’s’ and ‘And’s’ and still be left with an unreadable  chunk .  The Shining I must admit was an excellent book, tightly drawn and full of suspense, but then King sadly got a bad attack of verbal diarreah and has sunk in my opinion ever since.  But literary criticism is of course subjective.  When he was at university Michael Crichton decided to submit a little known short story by Hemingway as his own in order to see what would happen [here he would be thrown out of school on his ear-hole that’s what would happen, but times change ].  Hemmingway, Chrichton says, got a “C”.  When at university I was also tempted to submit other people’s work as my own  – a practise that was widely endorsed by the student body as a whole until it was stifled forever by the introduction of satanic software like ‘Turn it In’.  I only did it once – sort of – when I submitted a paper for Anthro 101 on Neanderthal Man and quoted widely and extensively from Time Life Books for the General Reader [now defunct].  I hadn’t heard of the term ‘academic research’ or that other one ‘primary sources’ at that stage in my school career, therefore I inserted reams of directly lifted text from ‘Time Life’  sprinkled  lightly with a few unoriginal words of my own here and there like snowfalkes.  I was pleased to find that this essay writing lark was pretty easy after all.   Fortunately for me I did put quotation marks around most of my paragraphs making them look like ‘proper’ quotes, and the bibliography was easy:  ‘Time Life’, ibid, ibid, ibid…otherwise I might have joined Michael Crichton outside in the road waiting for the Number 27 bus.

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I haven’t had much time for blogging this week because I have been reviewing books. Yes chaps I am a book reviewer – well – I’ve reviewed one or two probably not very well and not very accurately because I did drop one of them in the bath and the pages stuck together but there you are. I can now say that I have joined the ranks [tatty fringes] of serious journalism. Of course it would help if I could write in terse, well-crafted, precise sentences instead of waffling on for ages and then flitting off on tangents as soon as the fancy takes me. I notice that if you were to read any of my wordy constructions aloud you would probably die of asphyxia long before you got to the end. I should write thrillers – all beginning “It was a dark and stormy night” and go on for six pages without pausing for breath. Of course there was a time when short sentences were anathema – [now there’s a new word for the day] and were frowned upon especially by those of the legal profession who were paid by the word. That’s why your lease is forty-five pages long and dotted with hithertos and theretofores like currants in a figgy pudding. Plus it makes the author appear more substantial and formidably erudite the more words s/he uses even though s/he probably has no more idea than I do about what the hell s/he’s driveling on about. And as an aside if you want to appear to be the final authority on some topic or other it also helps if you can sprinkle your text liberally with quotations from Virgil or the Bible – using the original Latin Vulgate of course – or perhaps include a few pithy Bon Motes in Arcadian French.

But I digress – where was I? Oh yes – reviewing books. I enjoyed a couple of them – in fact one or two were a really interesting read i.e. Gordon Ramsay’s recent autobiographical offering: “Roasting in Hell’s Kitchen” – which goes quite some way to explaining just why he loses his temper so often and uses swear words as punctuation and hates his dad and has a low sperm count [standing in front of hot stoves all day – be warned] but then I ran into a veritable Great Wall of China of a book, which as you know was built to keep out invaders – and obviously book reviewers as well. I could not get through it with a steam shovel – or possibly a conquering horde of Mongolian Marauders. So now I’m on the horns of a dilemma [there’s those dilemma horns again]. The work is self-published – what was once called a ‘Vanity Press’ production – and before you give us the old French shoulder shrug and sneer at this, I believe Honore de Balzac [also known as Honorary Ballsack amongst the uncouth classes] availed himself of the Vanity Press of his day – although I could be making that up – my memory for Farcical French potboilers is somewhat hazy.

Anyway – what to do about a really bad book? Do I slam it to the ground and jump up and down on the authors literary day-dreams or do I try and be politically correct – sort of like being the Paula Abdul of the book reviewing world – and say something along the lines of “this book was written entirely to the author’s own personal standards of satisfaction and was no doubt enjoyed by not only him but all of his friends and relatives too – and by the way I liked his picture on the back”, or do I go off on a Gordon Ramsay and declaim that he writes about as well as my old aunt Sally who is chained to a wall down at the local looney bin and thinks she’s the Shah of Iran? If there are any ‘real’ reviewers out there perhaps they would be kind enough to share some insights with me. In the meantime I have found a suitable use for what I like to call the ‘Doorstopper’ book – it’s quite good for resting your coffee cup on while you read about Jamie Oliver roasting his wienies over a slow fire [he evidently likes to cook in the nude – I never realized that his TV show the “Naked Chef” meant precisely that].

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No-one seems to read much anymore do they?  I know people who never read anything, not even the cornflakes box in the morning or the back of the ketchup bottle.  I have even known people who have never read a book apart from the times at school when they were forced to digest Animal Farm or Treasure Island or Hamlet piece-meal and spit out the remains in the form of the ubiquitous ‘book report’ that is and was always guaranteed to put the mockers on any love of reading forever.  I can’t imagine why someone would want to take a thrilling and absorbing adventure story [or even Hamlet for that matter] and dissect it so thoroughly that only the bare bones remain like the remnants of last nights fish dinner. 

 

I once took a course in Shakespeare’s Plays at University.  We spent an entire semester discussing such things as what was meant by the line uttered by the dying Lear to Cordelia, ‘Pray you now loose this button’.  Well, it’s obvious, he was either gasping his last gasp and his collar was too tight or he was gasping for a last ciggy and couldn’t reach his lighter, one or the other.  Shakespeare was writing for the masses you know, the groundlings who all stood around posing and talking loudly – just like theatre audiences of today – and hoping for a glimpse of Nell Gwinn’s oranges.  I also took a course in Chaucer of Canterbury Tales fame as well as the poetry of John Dunn which similarly was duly dissected and worried over until most of the fun and all of the humour was gone.  Chaucer can be hilarious although I can see where some people might disagree.  But if read in the right spirit [and an assumed heavy West Country accent] Chaucer is exceedingly naughty and therefore hugely enjoyable.  The Canterbury Tales reads like a Whitehall Farce, for example ‘The Millers Tale’, which begins with the cuckolded husband sitting in the bathtub in the attic waiting for the second flood to come and ends with the miller sticking his bum out the window and farting on passers by.  Dunn by contrast was the frustrated and imaginative Rector or Dean or some-such of St.Pauls Cathedral [I wasn’t always paying attention], who spent much of his time composing highly suggestive love poems that involved such things as bare bodices, bosoms and various itches [not all of them caused by fleas].

 

When I was a kid the school library had a reasonably large collection of adventure yarns that had somehow managed to escape the ‘book report’ list because A. they were not classic enough and B.  They were not boring enough to begin with.  However, so as to protect unsullied little minds from the evils of the larger universe most of these volumes were  ‘Boy Scout’ versions and had therefore been expurgated to within an inch of their lives so that barely ‘and’ and ‘the’ remained.  This of course provoked in us an insatiable desire to find un-tampered with copies that still contained the naughty bits, even though this meant several bus rides and a long walk to the Public Library down behind the Guildhall.  And the naughty bits were easy to find – they were the pages that fell open in your hand when you took the book down off the shelf.  However, many of the naughty bits were not all that naughty at all.  In comparison with today’s literary fodder where just about anything goes, including apparently congress with goats, they were tame indeed.  I remember furtively obtaining a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover [banned at one time] and being bored rigid by turgid prose only enlivened in several hundred pages by people disappearing into gardening sheds. And there were lots of vaguely suggestive lines of the ‘her pointed breasts strained against the thin fabric of her damp blouse’ variety.  And rather a lot of gardening. 

 

Books are so much more satisfying than going to see a movie for instance. You can lose yourself in a good book.  You can travel to distant worlds, you can voyage to the bottom of the sea, you can be so engrossed in a murder mystery that you lose all sense of time and place while a tornado takes off to Oz with your house and everything in it including the dog.  You can forget your worries and just drift away.  But yes, you will say, you can also do that while watching a good movie, which is true.  However, in a book you must describe the scene with such depth and accuracy that the reader can ‘see’ everything that happens in the mind.  In a book you can’t just write a line like ‘Gandalf takes his magic wand in his hand and waves it around in the air’ and expect your reader to engage with the character – you must set the scene, describe the backdrop, set the mood, stimulate the imagination, involve the reader in the lives of your protagonists and have them ‘smell the flowers’.  In a movie it’s just a tight shot of a pair of rubber boots and some sandals outside an old shed then a quick cut to some surf pounding on the shore.  Well, at least that’s how it used to be.  Nowadays it’s 40 minutes of gratuitous sex with no particular connection to the plot – and that’s just a National Geographic Special. 

 

And another thing – you can’t take a movie in the bath – not without dire electrical consequences that is – so go buy yourself a good book.  Of course if you don’t read you won’t be reading this either so it doesn’t really matter.

 

 

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